What is Upper Back Pain?

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, a common complaint we hear at our office is pain in the upper back. Published in 2015, a study implemented by the French Institute for Public Health Prevalence concluded that 1 in 10 men and 1 in 5 women suffer from upper back pain (1). Your upper back is considered the area that is between your neck and the bottom of your ribs and it comprises twelve bones. We refer to this specific area as the thoracic spine.

The thoracic spine is designed for stability to anchor the rib cage and protect vital internal organs within the chest. Compared to the neck (cervical spine) and lower back (lumbar spine), the upper back is remarkably resistant to injury and pain. When upper back pain does occur, it is typically due to something significant such as an injury that overpowers the thoracic spine’s sturdiness;

or, something that has been building for a while such as long-term poor posture, chronic stress or tension.

Depending on the origin of your upper back pain you may experience:

  • Headaches
  • Tightness & stiffness in the thoracic spine region
  • Tightness in the traps (trapezius muscles – large triangular muscles extending over the
    back of the neck and shoulders and moving the head and shoulder blade)
  • Interference in the nerves that go down your arms to your hands

What Causes Upper Back Pain?

One of the most common causes of upper back pain seen at Elevation Chiropractic is overuse combined with poor posture. Looking down at our phones, sitting at our desks or on our computers, bad posture in the car or on the couch, standing with bad posture, sleeping in bad positions, muscle tension from stress (including emotional stress) continuously building – are all factors that can result in upper back pain. Eventually the muscles can’t take it and start to lock in, the nerves get aggravated, and inflammation increases resulting in pain.

Irritation near the origin of the sympathetic nerve will cause functional or organic changes in the organs supplied by the portion of the sympathetic nerve system irritated.” – Dr. Winsor

Based on this research, nearly 100% of diseased organs may be the result of an irritation or interference to the nerve that supplies that organ.

The tension caused from upper back pain can result in nerve interference in the cervical spine creating more headaches and interfering with the nerves that go to the heart, the lungs, the hands & feet, the thyroid (affecting hormones, mood, and sleep), energy, focus, and anxiousness. Again, this all starts from the muscles in the upper back being overloaded with stress, getting locked up and being tight.

How to Treat Upper Back Pain with Elevation Chiropractic

1) Address the issue by assessing the shoulder complaint – this means go see a chiropractor that will examine the mobility, biomechanics, muscles, tendons, and spinal nerve function. With this briefing of the moving parts of the body, a good chiropractor will use their expertise to determine the primary cause of the complaint.

2) Have your spine examined – to see where the specific misalignment is. This can be done through a physical assessment of the spine as well as X-rays. At our office, we utilize both.

3) Utilize proactive and reactive care:

  • Remove subluxations by having a chiropractor manually adjust the spine.
  • Adjustments through use of an ArthroStim to produce a ‘snowballing’ effect on neural receptors and allow it to transmit more information to the brain with less effort, pain, and force.
  • Whole body vibration to activate the muscular-skeletal system and nervous system simultaneously.
  • Corrective exercises – for example, if a cause of your upper back pain is the shoulders are rounded and elevated, we want to activate the muscles of the mid and upper back and posterior shoulder to help improve and restore ideal alignment
  • Personal adjustments (with guidance) to aid the body in healing and repairing such as proper hydration, anti-inflammatory diet, stress management, specific stretching, and REST.

It can definitely take time for treatment to work and for healing to fully occur. Try to be patient with yourself, as this problem probably didn’t develop overnight in the first place, either. If you are under care, be sure to stay the course and follow your recommendations. Relief will come with time – having your spine assessed and your nervous system checked means your body is able to communicate better and you are already healthier & safer from further injury!

Resources & Further Reading

1. N. Fouquet, J. Bodin, A. Descatha, A. Petit, A. Ramond, C. Ha, Y. Roquelaure, Prevalence of thoracic spine pain in a surveillance network, Occupational Medicine, Volume 65, Issue 2, March 2015, Pages 122-125, https://doi.org/10.1093/occmed/kqu151
2. Winsor, H. Sympathetic segmental disturbances–II. The evidences of the association, in dissected cadavers, of visceral disease with vertebral deformities of the same sympathetic segments, The Medical Times, November 1921, pp. 267-271. 3. https://chiro.org/Subluxation/A_Review_of_the_Evolution.shtml